tv QA Gordon Wood CSPAN December 18, 2017 5:59am-6:59am EST
the smaller websites as well. thishave been active in space. if we have to pay a toll to reach consumers, that will hurt us. >> watch the communicators tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span two. he --pan, where husker where history unfolds daily. in 1970 nine, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. announcer: this week on "q&a," professor and historian gordon wood. he talks about his book, "friends divided," about thomas jefferson and john adams.
♪ brian: gordon wood, as a longtime historian, what impact does it have on you that you were born in concord, massachusetts, grew up around boston? what has it done to your thinking of history? gordon: it made me a fan of john, just because he was a good old yankee. i am not sure that being a northerner has affected me consciously, i do not like to think that i am letting the present influence my conception of the past. so i am not sure. but i am a new englander for sure. brian: can you remember when you first heard about john adams? gordon: probably not until high school. i did not know much about him, not until college.
i had not gotten to see his home until after college. so it was a long time before i got to know him. now, because they did three volumes in the library of america about his writings, i really got to know him. i think i got to know him better than i know most of my friends. he is really something. brian: you said in your book that he had it and thomas jefferson did not. why do think one did and the other didn't? gordon: adams was a puritan in that sense. he came out of that tradition, they kept diaries. he needed to write out his emotions and feelings. he put everything in that diary.
as a young man. i mean, he said things about himself that most people would say, most people would not say. he expressed himself and even talked about his vanity. he talked about every intimate feeling he had. that is not something jefferson would do. jefferson was reserved and would never write what adams did, even in his letters. he simply, he had a very different temperament. they could not differ more in temperament. brian: what other differences? go through a litany. gordon: physically they were different. but most importantly, jefferson was a wealthy slaveholder. he was a leader of the slaveholding society. he acquired quite a bit of land and money from his father, but also from his father-in-law. he became very wealthy. it was automatic he would go
into the house of burgesses and become a politician, a political leader. it was a consequence of his social status. adams came out of a middling background and he did not inherit much from his father. he was not wealthy. he never became one of the richest men of massachusetts and he always resented that, because he was always regarded as of middling background and he suffered a little bit of contempt from some of the wealthy massachusetts men for that reason. brian: if you were in the same room with the two of them, talking just to the two of them, what would you notice? gordon: adams would be talking and was sarcastic. he had a sharp, sarcastic tongue. jefferson was restrained, reserved. he kept his arms folded in front of him when he talked. adams made mistakes because adams said what he thought and offended a lot of people. jefferson was the opposite, obsessed by politeness and
civility. he lectured his sons in-laws on that issue. he thought politeness was crucial and part of being enlightened. being polite was to be enlightened and civility was very important to jefferson. adams knew about this but just could not help it. he said he did not have the gift of silence. brian: what kind of an environment did they grow up in? gordon: jefferson grew up in a slaveholding society. he became one of the wealthiest planters in the colony. whereas, adams grew up in braintree with very little connections. none of the connections that jefferson had. jefferson's mother was a randolph, one of the most prestigious families in the whole colony of virginia. he had a silver spoon.
from the outset. whereas, adams did not. so there is a big difference in their backgrounds. massachusetts was a relatively egalitarian state compared to virginia. there were a few slaves in massachusetts, but nothing comparable to the 40% of virginia that was enslaved. so the worlds they grew up in were different. could not have been more different. brian: what kind of students were they? gordon: they were both smart, bright students. jefferson probably knew more about more things than any single man in north america. i include franklin in that, who would be his only rival. everyone was impressed by jefferson, the extent of his knowledge.
adams was smart but he did not have the span. but he had some depth in history and law that jefferson did not have. not because jefferson couldn't, but because he was not as interested in the law. in fact, although jefferson became a lawyer, he did not think of it as a career. he came to hate the law and hate lawyers. whereas adams loved the law, the mystery of the common law and he was of course a superb counsel. he was one of the best lawyers and certainly the busiest lawyer in the colony of massachusetts. brian: tell me, how many books have you written? of all the books you have published, and you got a lot of awards and medals, which of all of these books has been the biggest success?
gordon: biggest success is one thing, i don't know how you measure it. by sales i guess. that would be "the american revolution." my favorite book is my first, the creation of the american republic, because it was my dissertation. that is my favorite, but it is certainly not the best seller. brian: what led to your interest in that at the time and where did you do your dissertation? gordon: i went to harvard graduate school. had no interest when i first went to graduate school. i worked with arthur schlessinger, jr. he quickly shifted to kennedy. i took a seminar with him and
and suddenly i said, this early american stuff is really interesting. i have never regretted that decision. the wisest decision i ever made. brian: bernard is still alive, he is 95. gordon: we celebrated his jubilee of his ideological origins last april. this is the 50th anniversary of his book. we had a meeting, celebrating the book. a number of us who knew him. and, he is fine. he came and gave a talk. these essays, i think, going to be published. so, he is fine. he is 95-years-old. it is nice to know that you can still be doing stuff that 95. brian: it makes you feel like a youngster. gordon: yeah, that's right. brian: when did you start working on this book and why? gordon: i did the pre-volumes of writing on john adams. he got three volumes.
franklin got one, jefferson, got one hamilton got one. adams got more pages than anyone else. coming out of that experience, i thought i would write a book on adams. he was fascinating to me. but my publisher suggested, why don't you do a comparison with jefferson? that intrigued me. i am glad he suggested that. because i think i learned more about each of them by pitting them against each other. so that is how it arose. i originally was working on adams, but my publisher suggested comparing them, and it was marvelous. i read everything they wrote here and it is all available now. either on letterpress editions are on the internet. it is just marvelous. i dedicate the book to the editors of the adams papers and the jefferson papers, because
they have done all this work presenting this material to us historians and they do not get the credit they deserve, these people, these editors. anyway, that is how it arose. brian: how do they differ in age? gordon: adams was eight years older. and that counted because when jefferson joined the continental congress in 1775, he saw adams as his senior and adams certainly saw him as his protége. only eight years difference, but this younger man, that can be a lot when you're young. and jefferson played that role, which of course, in other words listened to adams opinion and probably said the right thing. jefferson was very aware of
people. i think that is where the friendship started. he deferred to adams. and that was important. brian: in your first chapter, you write, jefferson told the american people what they wanted to hear. how exceptional they were. adams told them what they needed to know, truth about themselves that were difficult to bear. over the centuries, americans have tended to avoid adams' message, they have much preferred to hear jefferson's praise. gordon: right. adams was a realist. he did not believe every man was created equal. he did not believe in american centralism. -- in american exceptionalism. we americans are no better or different from other nations, just as corrupt, just as vicious. these are things he is saying. that is not the american myth,
the american dream. he took on every single dream or myth that americans live by. we could not live by adams's message, it would be too much to bear. jefferson said what we needed to hear in some respects, because you cannot have a nation based on the notion that we are all unequal from birth. in other words, adams did not know about genetics or dna, but he believed that people are unequal from birth. he was all into nature, not nurture. jefferson is the opposite. he was into nurture. that is what i think most americans believe. in other words, we are all born equal and our differences are due to different experiences and environments, and that is why education is so important to americans and to jefferson.
adams did not disparage education, but he said it will not make much difference. he told jefferson, i went to a foundling hospital in paris and i saw babies four days old, and already they were unequal. some were smart, some were dumb, some were beautiful, some were ugly. he says, those differences were right there. that is not an american message. that is the jeffersonian message. that is why we honor jefferson in the way we do. we tend to honor the two men very differently. jefferson has a beautiful memorial on the tidal basin in washington right at the mall. there is nothing for adams. monticello is a heritage site, visited by hundreds of thousands
across the world. i do not know how many people go to quincy, massachusetts. adams' home, a modest house relative to monticello. it is hard to get to. it gets a fraction of the visitors. why? he is not in the same league. ue.ebrity leak -- leag even then, at one point, when they reconcile, the friendship broke up but they came back together in 1812 and exchanged about 158 letters. adams wrote three to every one of jefferson's. adams says to jefferson, how many letters do you get in a year how many do you receive? this was 1820 and jefferson said he gets 2000 something. adams says he only gets 200. they are 10-to-1. jefferson felt obligated to answer them.
jefferson was corresponding with the czar of russia and with great people. adams was not in that league at all. so adams said, i will write more than you, because i know you are busy answering other people. he had to answer over 2000 letters. so they are in a different league then and they still are in our consciousness. there is no way adams could compete with jefferson. jefferson stands for america. unfortunately, he was a slaveholder and that has tainted him badly in these days. brian: when did jefferson meet adams and what was he doing? gordon: they were in the continental congress. adams was in the first continental congress. jefferson did not make that one. i think he became ill.
he had sent along instructions that were printed as a pamphlet. some review of the contest between britain and the colonies, which established his name in 1774. it was a radical pamphlet. as radical as any pamphlet written up until thomas paine because he takes on the king in his pamphlet. this is to year before the declaration. it anticipates the declaration, because it goes through a series of things that the king and government were doing. that establishes his name, but he did not make the congress because he became ill. he comes to the second continental congress in 1775, where adams is already serving on 20 committees, including the committee on war. he is chair of many of the committees. so that when the declaration of independence, that committee is formed and they are both on it, adams is happy to have this young guy take on the drafting of the declaration, because he
is busy doing other things, so little did they realize how important that declaration would become. later of course, adams becomes quite jealous of the fame jefferson is getting. brian: during the constitutional convention in philadelphia, where were the two men? gordon: jefferson was minister to france and adams was minister to london. interestingly enough, i think adams had a profound effect on the constitution, on the kind of government. because he had written the , massachusetts constitution in 1780 and set forth a structure that gets copied by the federal government. a strong executive with a veto power. what adams wanted was absolute veto over all legislation, but
he had to bend to his colleagues and he gave a limited veto. that is the reason all of our governors have limited vetoes, including the president, it is because of adams. in 1776, none of those had veto power. it is adams who pushes that. so he had an influence on the federal constitution. even though he was not present. they are away and so they do not know about it until later. two months later. adams loves it, and he thinks it is pretty good because it seems to fit his own description of what a government should be. jefferson is appalled by it. the power of the president is too great, he sees the president as a version of a polish king, a polish king was elected for life, serves for life, and then dies. then the aristocrats would elect
a new king. that is he thought the president would be. washington served only two terms, he could not wait to get back to mount vernon, otherwise he might have stayed in office until he died. if he had not been george washington, who really was not someone who loved power. so, he leaves after his second term. he could've stayed on if he wanted to. in so, that is how jefferson thought the presidency would be. like a polish king, serve for life. brian: there are threads through your book, britain versus france, aristocracy versus commoners. where were they on both of those? explain what an aristocrat is. gordon: well, it is controversial. they actually took about this in
their correspondence and their retirement years. what is an aristocrat? adams was obsessed by oligarchy. he believed there would inevitably be oligarchs who attempt to run things. or who attempt to run things. he feared aristocracy more than he feared monarchy or a single ruler. he was willing to give much more power to a present or a governor -- to a president or a governor they on jefferson. adams is a one time, you fear the one, i fear the few. he was obsessed by aristocracy, even though he is one of them. his notion, jefferson's notion of aristocrat is talented and virtuous, like himself. he assumed that people, once educated, they will elect people like himself.
jefferson was confident of the populace. he did not fear demagoguery would take place. adams was more fearful of democracy. he thought they would soon become corrupt and partisan and we would have to adopt lifetime tenure for the president, and for the senate. eventually having to make them hereditary. following the russian model. -- following the english model. the question is, have we reach that point yet in our elections? he would certainly believe, i told you so. this is what happens when you have too much democracy. jefferson had none of those doubts. none of those fears.
he neveru wrote that doubted the need for christianity. gordon: right. gordon: jefferson had contempt for organized religion. he made a couple of mistakes publicly, one in his notes on virginia. he said, my neighbor believes in plenty of gods and it does not break my arm. that came back to haunt him. most americans did not believe that. it got him into trouble. he was accused of being an atheist in 1800. he mocked christianity and thought the trinity was a joke. and so on. he would say this in private to his friends, but he did not really care much about organized
religion at all and he did not think religion was all that important to people. adams, quite the contrary. although he was a unitarian, like jeffereson, that is they did not believe in the divinity of jesus, adams had tremendous respect for religion. he thinks it is useful and necessary. people need to have religion. he never mocked it or made fun of it. he was very different in that respect from jefferson. brian: why was so adams attached to britain and jefferson attached to france and the french revolution? gordon: the french revolution, of course a momentous event. jefferson sees the french revolution as being influenced by ours. he sees a worldwide revolutionary wave beginning with us that will spread eventually and revolutionize the world. 10 years later, you had the
french revolution, which seemed to be the first of what is going to be many revolutions. he is a complete ideologue. he is caught up in the french revolution. at one point, his successor as minister in france writes to him and says, mr. jefferson, your friends -- and this is 1793 right in the middle the terror, he says, mr. jefferson your friends are being guillotined by the thousands. jefferson writes back, so be it, if only an adam and eve are left alive at the end, it would be worth it. that leads an irish journalist to write -- jefferson was the pot pol of that revolution. that is how he appeared in letters. but that was the feeling he had about this revolution.
it was worth many deaths. so he is a complete radical. his ideas if he had written them out were no different than thomas payne's age of reason. he is in the vanguard of radical thinking but still an elected official. adams is committed to the english constitution from the beginning. finest in the world. he wants the republican government to be a republican model of the english constitution. he is completely taken with the english. when the revolution breaks out, england and france are in a titanic struggle over 10 years of war.
adams' sympathy is with england and jefferson is with france. that is the source of their ultimate break. the two parties that emerged, the federalists are pro-english and the jeffersonian republicans are pro-france. so the two men are caught as leaders of these two parties by the end of the 1790's. brian: based on what the federalists stood for back in those days, does it make sense that the conservative legal group in town is called "the federalist society"? is called that? gordon: i think they think of it in terms of federalism, the separation between the state and federal government. federalism. that was the name chosen by the designers, the framers of the constitution. a very shrewd title, because
they should have called themselves nationalists. because the real federalists were the anti-federalist. that came out of the constitutional struggle of 1787. 1788. the party continues to call themselves federalists, even though they are pushing for a strong consolidated kind of national state. they get stuck with the name. i do not think the modern federalist society of attorneys is thinking in those terms. they are not trying to duplicate that, although it does not hurt them to that identification because they are conservative. brian: this is your writing. adams also thought the dynamic world of the early republic was going to hell in a handbasket. he hated all of the banks and the proliferating issues of paper money as much as jefferson. gordon: right. neither of these men understood banking.
they did not know how the bank operated. adams said at one point, if the bank has more money and paper -- in paper outstanding than it has gold and silver in the vault, to back it up, then it is a cheat of somebody. that it is cheating. obviously, no bank can make any money if it does not print more paper. they do not count on everyone coming to the bank to get gold and silver, so they can issue more money out, more paper out, promises to pay then they actually can redeem. that is always a problem. if you get too far, as one bank in rhode island, my own state, did in 1808, think it had 16,000 i think it had $600,000 in paper promises to pay with $86
of gold and silver tube back it up. that bank went bankrupt. the first bankruptcy bank in american history. adams did not understand banking, neither did jefferson. hamilton understood with the bank was, but he did not expect the proliferation of state banks. this is an important part of the making of the constitution. madison is frightened of this paper money being issued by the states in the 1770's. coming out of the railroads. one of the things he wants to stop is this negative that he wants to give the congress over all state legislation. because he is particularly concerned about the issuing of paper money. well, having a veto all over legislation will be too impractical. it gets boiled down to article one section 10 of the constitution which prohibit states from doing certain things. they can't pass tariffs and they can't print paper money. well the tariff, if that had
been enforced strictly, it would have stifled the economy. the states get around that by chartering banks which in turn banks print the paper money, pretty soon you have hundreds of banks by the early decades of the 19th century issuing paper money. this is what jefferson and adams are appalled by. most people were. look, all of these founders who lived into the 19th century are appalled by what they brought. they're disappointed by the revolution, they are scared. it is too wild, certainly, adams and jefferson both have second thoughts. not that they want to reverse it, but they just say, this is not the world we wanted. brian: you taught at brown and university of rhode island for how long?
gordon: 39 years. i am not taught for eight years now. brian: when you did this book, did you learn anything about either thomas jefferson or john adams? gordon: the i did. things got sharper. particularly on the issue of equality, i had not realize how much adams was committed to the inequality of people and i got a greater appreciation of what was i got a greater appreciation of what was meant by all men are created equal. have takent people that equal rights. that is not what they meant. they meant it equally. all men are created equal, a blank slate, the notion of a blank slate that gets its by experience. that is a very different view from being born unable from now -- born unequal.
you will be the adult that you were going to be at four days. that is adams's point, you want to overcome your birth. that is not an american message, most people accept it and i think all americans accepted the jeffersonian view and bodied in the declaration. that we are it will at birth. that is why we put so much emphasis on education. the jeffersonian message is our message, it is an american message. it is good we believe that. even if it is not entirely true. it would be unbearable to take the opposite view. i think that would be impossible.
brian: you write, this is about john adams, he had more doubts about the rationality and the virtue of the american people than jefferson had. where did that come from in his life? gordon: think of it this way. jefferson never lost an election in his life, he had confidence in the people who always elected him. he was elected to the house of burgesses and to the state legislature and then he was elected by the legislature to the continental congress and to be a minister abroad and then he is elected vice president because he comes in second through adams, adams, in that his experiment only three electoral votes, adams was appalled by that, he had been vice president of washington and expected -- well, i should be acclaimed. washington got every single electoral votes he could. it wasn't the same with adams, he squeaked in by three votes. if it had gone the other way, jefferson would have been the president and he would have been the vice president. he said he would never serve under jefferson. he is not happy about that, he feels he has been humiliated by
the close election. in 1800, he loses and that is beyond belief for him. the federalist of new england are frightened of democracy because they see it, it is in operation, people are not being elected, you go to virginia and you have all these slaveholding aristocrats who are the leaders of the republican party which is the more democratic party. it is a paradox but these people have confidence in democracy because there is none of the problems that the leaders are having in massachusetts. massachusetts is a more egalitarian society, the so-called aristocrats are more vulnerable to challenge, it is easy to enter the aristocracy of new england and so they are much more frightened of democracy even though they are more democratic in fact.
it is that paradox that can make sense. we have a hierarchical society of virginia. they have more limousine liberals if he will end jefferson was a prime example of a limousine liberal. someone who is so confident of his own status and his position in society that he can afford to be democratic. in small d. and big d, too. he becomes the jeffersonian republican democratic party. brian: when they split, if i remember correctly, john adams did not ride with thomas jefferson to the inauguration and he left at 4:00 in the morning. gordon: the only president in our history who was defeated who did not stay around to attend the inauguration. brian: how long was it between that time and the time they got
back together. gordon: that is 1800, 1801 is the inauguration of jefferson. it is 1812 and that only occurred because of dr. benjamin rush or billy two years, he knew both of the new ad was much better and he felt that the nation needed to hear these two men talk to each other, the posterity required their correspondence and they'll use that argument over and over and he played beautifully because he would report back, jefferson would say to adams, jefferson said he loves you and then he would go to jefferson and say adam says he loves you so they were set up, it took them two years. finally, they break through and then was the correspondence goes, adams is much more blunt and he says things. he is sarcastic, he is facetious. jefferson keeps the correspondence going because it
could have easily broken off and at one point in 1815, napoleon is defeated, the bourbons are back in the throne of france. adam says mr. jefferson, what do you think of the french revolution now? that was really sticking a dagger. because he believed so strongly in the french revolution. he doesn't come back. he lets the razzing go. that is how adams was. he was always digging, way that guys do. if they are really good friends, it is jefferson that puts up with that. he doesn't come back into the good thing, that is not in his nature. adams is a joker, he likes to make digs and remarks, pushing a little too much and a more
sensitive soul might have said enough is enough, i'm not putting up with that. brian: what would happen if these two men had to be on television today? gordon: i think adams would talk to much as he did not have the gift of silence, and jefferson would say the right things, he would not make any mistakes. adams would probably put his foot in his mouth. brian: you say that where jefferson was sincere, and ernest, adams was ironic and facetious. jefferson was unprepared to actually and emotionally for the rapidly changing world of the early republic. jefferson had always been the ultimate optimist, his expectations always outran reality. there is such a lot of stuff coming at you and you read that. one was a slave owner, the other was not. who had the higher morals? if there is that too uses a word admits process.
gordon: jefferson is such a complicated man. it is sad because at the end of his life, he becomes virtually a fire-eating southerner. earlier in his career, he is a courageous man, he speaks out against slavery and his peers put up with it. even know they don't agree with them, they are not going to move against slavery. he wants to, he speaks out. he is caught up with in mind notions. enlightened notions. he proposes all kinds of reforms. crime and punishment. the abolition of a religious establishment. he is weighing the vanguard in his own state and because he is so smart and knows so much and is so polite and civil, his colleagues, they don't agree with him, they don't pass this legislation immediately but they don't agree with him. somehow or other they put up with it. it is extraordinary how advanced
he is but by the end of his life, it is sad because slavery has become a nightmare for him and he hasn't done anything about it. he doesn't know what to do about it. adams realizes that. brian: in the end, what kind of money did jefferson and adams have? gordon: adams was never really wealthy but he was always shrewd. he and abigail kept their expenses within their income. he did not die in debt, jefferson dies totally in debt. so much so that he couldn't free slaves if you want to because his creditors would have owned this saves. he freed the children but he was an aristocrat, he doesn't think about money the way the way a yankee like abigail or john with think about money. he borrows money from the dutch to buy books, he doesn't borrow money from international
creditors to buy your expenses and consumer goods, he is out of touch with reality in terms of his income. he didn't have double booking, he kept records but he didn't balance is full account. so we had no awareness. his son-in-law comes to him and says at some point, mr. jefferson, you are going to lose monticello and jefferson goes white. he could not believe that. his personal affects, maintaining his accounts, what a mess. brian: why did it take historians so long to deal with the sally hemmings issue. it seems that was covered up forever. gordon: there was no evidence and jefferson indirectly denies
it. he is accused of two things. he takes credit for two. he admits to putting a make on mrs. walker, a married woman when he was young. and he sired children with sally hemmings, his slave and he says no, he admits to the walker affair, but he does not admit to sally hemmings. people took him at his word but the hemmings kids had reported about what their mother had done and in the 1990's, it took the dna findings. nothing is definitive but i'm gordon reed makes a very powerful case in france where the two siblings could exchange.
james's orders or he could have walked out and be free. you can train and others like to be a chef and i will for you. and i will free you. and james does that. the same deal is made with his concubine, sally. she does not went to be free, but she wants her children free when they are adults. that is what the children say later was the deal. it is perfectly plausible. i do not think there is a love relationship. jefferson is a cold fish towards these kids. he does not recognize them. he enters the birth of these children, presumably his children along with new heifers and pigs that are born. many of these planners had concubines.
they occasionally recognize the offspring with gifts at christmas or something. but he shows no affection, no awareness of whatsoever. it is a very strange relationship. brian: let's talk about academia. so much of the book said nothing is changed in the last 50 years but here you write this. jefferson was surprised by the amateur and rightist behavior of the students at his university in violation of the honor code and of course there was his deep faith in the french revolution that had gone awry. he was the pure american innocent. little understanding of man's capacity for evil and no tragic sense whatsoever. that is, he possessed no sense of the circumstances and pinching on and limiting human action. the point is, a people struggling with the world, he
scarcely understood. gordon: net that is america, we are like that. brian: but you said jefferson believed in exceptionalism and the positive and all of that, adams keeps telling us the real stuff. gordon: jefferson, it is amazing that he doesn't seem to learn from all of his things going wrong. just keep hoping against hope. people say we lost our innocence in 1898 and then we lost our innocence in vietnam. we are the only country that keeps losing its innocence. in that sense, we are very jeffersonian i think. we don't have a tragic sense. americans have no tragic sense of life we don't think about how circumstances impinging on us, we don't want to have a tragic sense because if it is too deep, you don't do anything, it is the sense of restraint.
the constraints limiting you. we've never been that kind of people. i think it is james pohl, the president, who said we are the only country in the world that has its history in the teacher. i mean, think about that. brian: i want to ask you write your own family, it seems to me they're all academics. gordon: i have one daughter who is married to a teacher at the aixa name you and she is caught up in a today matt and that sense. i have another daughter that teaches history in the midwest. she works on american history, really terrific. then, i have a son who was at yield for 22 years and he was commuting from new york city and was tired of that so he is now teaching at nyu. so yes, i have two that are
professors. my son works in art history. brian: i want to ask you about a footnote, go to the back of your book and advanced praise and it is that they quote in their cup meant in this book by joseph ellis. and you don't often see this, there is a footnote on page 481, you take joseph ellis on. this is something called the mecklenburg declaration. gordon: note well, he just made a mistake. it can easily happen. brian: he made a mistake, and then you say, how often of you found that as a historian. gordon: in this particular case i think it is important because it reflects on adams and a serious way. he said that adams didn't mean what he said, this has to do with the mecklenburg
declaration, which was a phony declaration of independence discovered by somebody in 1818 or something. andrews was initially very excited about this, because it shows that something had anticipated jefferson and so was jennifer than simply copying the mecklenburg declaration which occurred in 1775, one year before. and north carolina. brian: what did they do if they did it? gordon: they did not do it. i think the evidence was discovered in 1818, 1819 because the original records are burned and so on. so it is a phony document but passed on a something authentic. adams is excited because it means jefferson is that the genius that everyone is saying
he is. he is actually excited to write jefferson. jefferson right back and point out that we did not hear about this at the time. he poses all kinds of queries about it and he things it is and denies, thinks it is fake news, it is later, contrived, after the fact. adams accepts that. now, joe ellis read a letter that misread it, so he thinks adams doesn't agree with jefferson. i think he is wrong about that. it was your largest footnote. gordon: it had to be explained because it makes adams look bad. it makes him look like you was dishonest. those that he was saying something to jefferson but something else to some of the house. brian: we better not leave the mecklenburg declaration without explaining it. gordon: into was almost word for
word, some of the word to jefferson's declarations were there. it added into question. well, adams kind of liked that at first. at this point, you see jefferson is getting all of this fame. jefferson had no idea he would become famous. bike 1815 or so, he is seen as the author of the declaration of independence and all atoms can say is, the author? he is just a draftsman. use jealous, upset at the fame coming to this man. jefferson comes to realize, he writes to his son-in-law, look, the desk on which i wrote the declaration is going to become a relic.
i am going to even team. he realizes it and he writes on his tombstone, three things. first, the author of the declaration of independence. he does not mention the presidency. he is the creator of the university of virginia and the author of the bill abolishing established religion and virginia. those of the three things he wants on his tombstone, but first was the declaration of independence. in 1776, he had no awareness this would make him famous. he never mentions his presidency is one of his great accomplishments. brian: here is what you wrote, during the last decade, jefferson's life came to have increasing doubts that the future would work out as he expected and his correspondence was punctuated with lament over the rising generation of which i once had sanguine hopes. you're basically saying that he switched everything it near the end.
gordon: i have a chapter called "the great reversal," because in their correspondence, adams developed code of confidence and he feels better about himself and about the country and jefferson is going to other way. adams' son, john quincy, becomes president in 1824, jefferson congratulates adams but deep down, he thinks that is a mistake, he is frightened to death of what john quincy is proposing. quincy is coming in with an internal improvement and that is infrastructure if you will, let's build the federal government, it will build bridges, canals, all the kinds of stuff, slaveholders are fed to death because of the federal government can do that, they can encroach and get involved in slavery and he becomes fiery, he is concerned about the federal government power to do something
about the nature of the institution. brian: you wrote, this is a adams. the united states is no different than any other nation. this does corrupt, just as sinful, just as vicious as other nations. do you believe that? gordon: we were the only democracy, we were the only republicans. and that was same for lincoln. when he says the last best hope, and aftermath of the failure of the 1888 revolution, we were exceptional. now, there are democracies everywhere. we happened to be the biggest power the world, where the biggest democracy in the world with 330 million people.
there's nothing like it. but we are not exceptional in our democracy any longer. britain, france, the european union nations are democratic, too. so i think that kind of exceptionalism is gone. but we are exceptional in the sense of where larger, bigger, more powerful. brian: we only have time for one more, this is thomas jefferson and you write that he was dismayed that the american people were not learning to love one another but were increasingly engaged in partisan, sectarian, and sectional strife. what has changed? gordon: well, jefferson was an 18th-century radical which was very different from a moderate liberal. he believed in minimal government, government interfered with the natural social feeling that people had and he wanted to eliminate and minimize government to allow the free flow of the social sense that exists in every human being.
that is the radical position of the late 18th century. it makes thomas payne, got one, and jefferson alike in their radicalism. brian: for someone who has not read the book and is listening to this, what would you say your perspective is the number one takeaway? gordon: the difference between these two men and how they work and embody different aspects of america, of us, i think both of them are important as part of what we are as a people. brian: are you going to write another book? gordon: i don't know about that. we will see. brian: how long did it take you to do this? orden: not long. i've been working at the stuff for 50 years but probably four years. brian: of all the award you received over the years, what is the one that meant the most to you? gordon: the pulitzer prize, but the other one is equally prestigious.
the bancroft is not as well-known. i have not really sorted that out but it obviously makes a big difference for anybody who gets one. brian: you mentioned who taught you at harvard. who is your favorite? gordon: balin is the best historian in america and the 20th century, there is nobody who comes close to his kind of insight. brian: why? gordon: he understands what history is about. he is a contextualist. he taught that you don't bring the present into the past, you try to understand the past as a foreign country where they do things differently. brian: our guest has been gordon s. wood. professor emeritus at brown university.
the book is called "friends divided: john adams and thomas jefferson." thank you so much. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] announcer: for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q&a.org programs are available as c-span podcasts as well. ♪ announcer: if you enjoyed this week's "q&a" interview with gordon wood, here are some other programs you might like. david stewart talking about his book, madison's gift. david bob talking about his book, "humility: an unlikely biography of america's greatest virtue." and author james traub talking about his book, "john quincy adams: militant spirit." you can search our entire video
library at c-span.org ♪ next, live, your calls and comments on "washington journal." after that, a discussion on the middle east and the announcement of dachshund discussion of trump's announcement regarding jerusalem. and legislative business begins at 2:00 p.m. >> tonight, on "the theunicators," ryan fong of washington post talking about overturning net neutrality. >> the question is whether or not the rules put in place in 2015 are really appropriate for this new era. and in some ways, by rolling them back,